May 16, 2019

CEO Update - May 2019

Vale Bob Hawke

I grew up with Hawkey. I was just six years old when he got elected Prime Minister and well into my teenage years by the end of his fourth term in government. As a sickly asthmatic kid with a sickly asthmatic twin sister and from a family where my Dad had to take a second job throwing newspapers in the morning (even though it made him ill from motion sickness) to cover the bills, the introduction of Medicare was incredibly important to our family as well as the country.  

I remember sitting in front of our TV at home being introduced to the importance of the environmental commitments to protect Tasmania’s Franklin River, Arnhem Land and Kakadu National Park. And I distinctly recall my year-2 primary school assignment on the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics where we for the first time had Advance Australia Fair sung as our National Anthem.  

As a young teenager when I got my first job in retail, thankfully sex discrimination had been outlawed by the 1984 Sex Discrimination Act. I  joined the union on my first day in the job and eventually became a Union representative for casual employees and (probably very badly) tried to channel Hawkey’s negotiation skills.  

As I grew up with Hawke, I didn’t understand just how remarkably authentic he was as a leader and how deeply connected he was to ordinary people while also being a hard-working intellectual and diplomat. 

Joseph de Maistre back in 1881 said, “In democracy, people get the leaders they deserve”. This was applicable throughout those Hawke years and still is as we go to the polls to vote this weekend.

While we can only vote for the ‘leaders’ who step up for political life and end up listed on the ballot, our ability to exercise choice is a real privilege and responsibility. At the polls and in broader life, we are leaders in our own right. We can exercise leadership in regard to not just who we vote for, but the roles we play, how we experience and perceive the world, what we call out, how we behave and the decisions we make.

While larrikins like Hawkey might have made it seem easy when I was a kid, effective leadership is difficult. It’s especially difficult in complex situations and times. But, as Berger and Johnston (2015) remind us, there are three “Simple Habits” we can adopt to both examine the leaders we vote for and ourselves as leaders. They suggest we:

  1. Ask different questions;
  2. See different perspectives; and
  3. See systems.

It’s worth thinking about in these three habits in regard to the democracy we are in and the democracy we want and asking:

  1. What’s important to me, my family, my community and the society I want to live in? How does this fit with the leaders who will represent me in government?
  2. How do I listen to and understand different perspectives and the values that sit underneath them? While this can be hard to hear sometimes (when options, ideologies or values differ from our own), diversity makes for a rich, vibrant and progressive society.
  3. What else is going on in my community and outside of it and what does that mean for the kind of society I want to be part of and that I will help to craft? 

I wonder whether someone like Hawke had inherent leadership skills or if he learned them over time. The changes he and his team made to the Australian economy, environment and socially, were hallmarks of this type of grounded and systemic thinking.

I love living in a democracy and fundamentally believe in (and am grateful for) our civic responsibility to vote for the representatives we believe will create the kind of society we want to live in.

As we go to the election this weekend, it’s worth holding onto Berger and Johnston’s three leadership habits, with a special focus on asking: What kind of society do I want for myself, my family and society and how does this match-up to the person and party I’m voting for? Then we really will get the leaders we deserve and the society we aspire to.

Whatever happens on the weekend in politics, like many others, I will be raising a ‘cheers’ to what Prime Minister Bob Hawke achieved with his team for the public good. We have much work left to do in his absence. RIP Hawkey.

Professor Kristy Muir


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Comments (1)

  • 20.05.19 | 2:21AM

    I commend "The Australia We Want", a manifesto produced by the Community Council of Australia. The latest version was published last week and updates the scorecard on how we are going in achieving a fairer, just, society. Sad to say; still a way to go.

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